Eating Disorder AWAREness

Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening illnesses that affect millions of individuals in our society. The good news is that prompt intensive treatment can significantly improve the chance of individuals recovering from these illnesses. For this reason, it is important to be aware of symptoms and warning signs of eating disorders, as well as know the resources available to support individuals in need.

What is an Eating Disorder?

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) provides a thorough explanation of eating disorders, stating "Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. They are not a fad, phase or lifestyle choice. Eating disorders are serious, potentially life-threatening conditions that affect a person's emotional and physical health."

Common Eating Disorders

Below is an overview of the most commonly identified eating disorders.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. Due to the fact that the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to survive and function normally, it begins to slow down to conserve energy. This can have life threatening consequences for the individual with this illness.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Fear of weight gain
  • Obsession with weight gain
  • Persistent behavior to prevent weight gain (i.e., dieting and use of laxatives)

Warning signs include but are not limited to:

  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
  • Frequently commenting on body appearance
  • Anxiety about gaining weight
  • Development of food rituals (i.e., excessive chewing)
  • Avoiding meal times or eating in front of others

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binges and purges. Individuals struggling with this illness will utilize compensatory behaviors such as the use of laxatives, excessive exercising, and self-induced vomiting to undo or compensate the effects of binge eating. This illness can be harmful to the body and can cause damage to the digestive system, heart, and other major organs.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Consuming large amounts of food followed by behaviors to prevent weight gain
  • Feeling out of control during binge episodes

Warning signs include but are not limited to:

  • Evidence of binge eating (i.e., disappearance of large amounts of food in a short period of time)
  • Evidence of purging behavior (i.e., frequent trips to the bathroom after meals)
  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth from self-induced vomiting

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating is an eating disorder characterized by recurrent binge eating. The effects of this illness are often associated with health risks related to clinical obesity. Potential health consequences include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, heart disease, diabetes, gallbladder disease, and musculoskeletal problems.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Consuming large amounts of food without exhibiting behaviors to control or prevent weight gain
  • Feeling out of control during binge episodes
  • Feeling shame or guilt because of abnormal eating behaviors

Myth versus Fact

Below is a list of common myths associated with eating disorders. Unfortunately the perpetuation of these myths increase stigma of these illnesses and prevent individuals from seeking necessary treatment for these potentially life-threatening illnesses. You can educate yourself on the facts and share this information with others to help create an environment where those who are struggling with an eating disorder can feel safe enough to seek services and support.

Myth: "College women are a low risk group for eating disorders."

Fact: Actually, college women are considered a high risk group for developing eating disorders. The Collegiate Survey Project, Eating Disorders on the College Campus: A National Survey of Programs and Resources found that the rate of eating disorders among college students has risen to 10 - 20 percent of women.

Myth: "Only Females have eating disorders."

Fact: The Collegiate Survey Project found that the rate of eating disorders among college students has risen to 4 - 10 percent of men.

Myth: "Overweight people don't face discrimination."

Fact: Individuals that are overweight face discrimination due to their physical characteristics. In the United States, extreme thinness is a social and cultural ideal. This unhealthy obsession around thinness is one of many contributors to the high rates of eating disorders in the United States.

Myth: "People who are of a 'normal weight' cannot have eating disorders."

Fact: Eating disorders are not determined by the size and weight of an individual. In fact, many individuals with eating disorders are of average, or even above average, weight.

Myth: "Only people with mental illnesses can develop eating disorders."

Fact: Eating disorders are believed to be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and socio-cultural factors. Eating disorders can develop in anyone, regardless of their mental health state.

Myth: "Eating disorders can't be fatal."

Fact: Over the course of one person's lifetime, at least 50,000 individuals will die as a result of eating disorders. Anorexia Nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Myth: "It is extremely difficult to detect the symptoms of an eating disorder in another person."

Fact: While it is not uncommon for individuals with an eating disorder to keep their illness a secret, by being aware of signs and symptoms, bystanders are better prepared to detect eating disorders in other individuals. If you believe that someone you know exhibits signs of an eating disorder, help is available.

Campus Resources

Prompt intensive treatment can significantly improve the chance of an individual recovering from an eating disorder. Below is a list of campus and community resources available to IUP students.

The Counseling Center's Online Mental Health Screening Tool

The Rhonda H. Luckey Center for Health and Well-Being provides an online screening for anxiety, depression, alcohol, and eating disorders. This free screening is made available to all IUP students and is taken anonymously. The screening is provided so that you may find out - in a few minutes - whether or not professional consultation would be helpful to you.

The Counseling Center

Faculty members in the Counseling Center are available to handle the needs of students in crisis during regular office hours, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m.-noon and 1:00-4:30 p.m. Students in crisis may come to the Counseling Center at any time during these hours; however, you should visit the Counseling Center website for up-to-date walk-in hours and learn about their services.

The Nutrition Connection

Nutrition Connection is a free service to IUP students concerned about healthy eating habits, fitness, weight management, nutrition-related medical problems, or eating disorders.

Health and Wellness Promotion

The Health and Wellness Promotion program encourages students to make healthy lifestyle choices, advocates for a campus community that supports students' well-being, and provides intervention and referrals to meet students' health needs. Through peer education programs and AWAREness campaigns, students can learn how to develop lifestyles that promote lifelong wellness.

Sources: American Psychological Association, National Eating Disorder Association,, The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness

Disclaimer: This site is a resource for IUP students. It is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. IUP Health Service staff members are available to treat and give medical advice to IUP students. Visit the IUP Health Service website for more information.

Visit our resource library for more information.